I was born into the culture of Northern British Columbia, Canada. I lived in a small town crawling with white, Dutch, Christian Reformed people. There is also quite a large population of First Nations people (the Vet’suwet’en, to be specific) that live in and around there. When I was only three months old, however, my family moved to Papua New Guinea, a tropical island off the North shore of Australia. These people’s skin ranged from a light coffee color to almost pitch black. They had tribal wars and were somewhat pantheistic. I remember drawing out and then coloring a Christmas tree on multiple large pieces of white paper because if we cut down a tree there would be an uprising in the surrounding community. Growing up surrounded by native Papua New Guineans, I quickly became bilingual with pidgin English and the English I am now most familiar with. My mom has said that when I was playing with my girlfriends (who had dark skin and did not always wear clothes), she could not tell my voice from theirs because my accent was so similar to theirs. I do not remember ever noticing that I was significantly different from everyone around me. There were some men that I was afraid of, but that was usually when they were in their traditional dress of a grass skirt and lots of face paint.
When I moved back to Northern British Columbia, I experienced culture shock. Surrounding me were white people who spoke only English (and perhaps a little French). There was a white, powdery substance covering the ground that was a cold I had only experienced from placing my hand in the freezer. Students sat in classrooms all day long. The First Nations people who lived nearby never made eye contact with us on the street. Somehow I picked up from people around me that these people were dirty and drank a lot. The men had long hair and the women seemed to be heavier set. I never had any personal experience with these mysterious people.
When I moved to Texas I became very aware that I was a minority (at least in number) surrounded by mostly black and Hispanic Americans or recent immigrants. When I was 16 years old I got a job at Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits. My manager was Hispanic and all my coworkers (as well as the majority of the customers) were black. While the job was very stressful (we were always understaffed), the people made the job fun. One time an older black lady said to me, “You know you’re the only white person, right?” Jokingly, I replied, “Wait, I’m not black?!” I did not really give myself time to think of an appropriate response, so I am glad she had a good sense of humor. Many times our most frustrating customers were middle-class white women. They fussed the most about the quality of service and food. Sometimes when my coworkers took off the headsets they would make fun of the white customers. I did not take it personally, but it was interesting to note their views of “us.”
When I came to college and started dating, a relative emailed me to find out about this guy. I mentioned to her that he was not black and that that was disappointing to me because I always wanted to marry a black person (mostly because I think that “mixed” babies are extremely precious). She, in all seriousness I think, asked me if my parents would be okay with me dating a black male. I was surprised by this question and asked my mom why she would ask that. Apparently my mom dated a black guy in high school and she had to keep their relationship a secret because her parents would not approve. I was somewhat surprised, but assured my aunt that my parents would not mind at all if I dated a man of color.
My most recent encounter with race (or more accurately, racism) has come from living in Texas. My high school was predominantly white kids from upper class. They were rich and had no desire (it seemed) or need to come in personal contact with a person of a different race (other than paying their maids). I am still astounded by the number of racial slurs coming from not only the mouths of the students, but of the teachers as well. The Mexicans were only good for mowing lawns and the black people were just really good at eating greasy chicken. I regret how shy I was coming to a new school. I like to use the excuse that I was new to the school to make up for the fact that I never stood up for any other race. By letting this slander go I am just as guilty as my classmates.
This is the rough draft of a paper I did for Diversity in Education class. What’s your Racial History?